Countdown to Clearwater: The battle for jobs

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Countdown to Clearwater: The battle for jobs

The Phillies open spring training Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. In advance of the first workout and the countdown to opening day, we take a daily look at the top storylines facing this club in camp.

Part 1 – Health

Part 2 – New faces

Part 3 – Charlie Manuel’s future

Part 4 – Young prospects

Part 5 – Defense

Today – Competition for jobs

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Though many of the core spots in the lineup and on the pitching staff are filled, there will be some competition for jobs in this Phillies spring training camp.

A host of candidates will vie for what looks like just three openings in the bullpen. Actually there might only be two openings because team officials were very pleased with the work of Jeremy Horst last season and he could have an inside track on being the second lefty in the bullpen, joining Antonio Bastardo. In addition to Bastardo, Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams and Chad Durbin are set in the bullpen.

Relievers who will compete for jobs in the bullpen include Mike Stutes, Phillippe Aumont, Jake Diekman, Michael Schwimer, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Raul Valdes, Joe Savery, Juan Cruz and others. We took a look at the bullpen situation a few days ago (see story).

Though newcomer John Lannan comes into camp with a competitor’s attitude -- he says he must win a job -- he lines up to be the fifth starter behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Kyle Kendrick. Barring injury, the rotation is set.

In addition to the bullpen, much of the competition for jobs will come in the outfield and on the bench.

The Phils figure to keep five outfielders. Ben Revere is a lock in centerfield. Laynce Nix might have a leg up on a job because he’d bring some lefthanded pop off the bench. John Mayberry Jr. seems to have a good chance of making the club because of his versatility and ability to hit lefthanded pitching. Without Mayberry, the Phils would scramble for help in centerfield if Revere went down. Mayberry plays both corner outfield spots and first base. He would have some value on this team’s bench.

Using this admittedly loose blueprint -- things can change quickly with a trade or an injury -- the Phils would seem to have two open outfield spots with three main contestants. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is on record as saying he hopes newcomer Delmon Young becomes the team’s everyday rightfielder not too long after opening day. (Young could be slowed early in camp as he continues to recover from offseason ankle surgery.)

Despite his hope to have Young’s bat in the lineup, Amaro warns: “He’s going to have to show us he can do it.” The GM was talking about Young’s ability to play rightfield, a position he has not played since 2007.

Young will be given every chance to do that once he’s cleared to play in games. That could come around mid-March. If Young can’t handle the job, Mayberry, Nix and Domonic Brown would all be in the picture there.

Coming into camp, however, Brown is expected to take part in what could be the spring’s best competition, a battle for the leftfield job, or maybe a slice of it, with Darin Ruf. It’s not out of the question that these two could form a platoon. That would force some adjustment of other outfield personnel.

Phillies officials aren’t under pressure to employ a Brown-Ruf platoon. Both players have minor-league options and can be sent to Triple A for more seasoning.

This isn’t Brown’s first spring tryout. Two years ago, he got off to a slow start then broke a bone in his hand as he lost the rightfield job to Ben Francisco. Francisco is a reminder that jobs can be won in spring training, but lost when the games count. His inability to lock down the job during the season led to the acquisition of Hunter Pence. Last year, Brown got a look in big-league camp, but club officials were committed to starting him at Triple A so he could continue his development.

Brown was a hot story in camp a couple of years ago. He’s been replaced as this year’s hot story by Ruf, who slugged his way from non-prospect to the major leagues in 2012. Ruf, 26, is a lifelong first baseman trying to make the conversion to leftfield. He made 29 starts at the position in Double A last season and six more in the majors in September. In the fall, he played the position in Venezuela, where he bashed 10 home runs to raise his total for the calendar year to 52. If Ruf hits, he will be difficult to keep off the team. Same for Brown, actually. That could be a nice competition to follow.

“There’s going to be some battling,” Amaro said. “We’re going to watch them closely. At some point they have to take the reins and let them decide for us whether they can do it.”

Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte, a speedy 22-year-old Venezuelan, is an outside candidate to win a spot in the outfield. Reports on his defense are good and that could enhance his chances if team officials believe they need an extra late-game defensive reinforcement.

In putting together their reserve infield corps, Phillies officials will have to decide whether to keep sure-handed Freddy Galvis or send him to the minors for regular playing time and at-bats. With an aging infield and a defensive question mark in Michael Young at third base, it’s not difficult to imagine team officials opting to keep Galvis in the majors, where he could help at three spots. Kevin Frandsen appears ticketed for a bench job, but veterans such as Yuniesky Betancourt and Pete Orr will also get looks.

Phillies-Pirates 5 things: Star Andrew McCutchen struggling in 2016

Phillies-Pirates 5 things: Star Andrew McCutchen struggling in 2016

Phillies (45-53) vs. Pirates (49-47)
4:05 p.m. on CSN

After Zach Eflin threw his second complete game of his young career on Friday (see game story), Aaron Nola will look to follow it up with a strong start of his own. Opposing him will be the Pirates' top prospect, Tyler Glasnow, in a mid-afternoon matchup with the Phillies

Here's what you should look out for on Saturday.

1. McCutchen in a down season
There is no doubt who is the face of the Pirates' franchise right now. It's Andrew McCutchen.

The 29-year-old outfielder is a five-time All Star, four-time Silver Slugger, the 2013 National League MVP, and led the team that broke a 21-year playoff drought. He's one of the most marketable athletes in baseball right now and the type of player any team would want to build around.

But is he on the decline?

It's a legitimate question to ask. From 2012-2014, McCutchen was arguably the top position player in the National League, posting an average of at least .314, an on-base percentage of at least .400 and a slugging percentage of at least .911 each year.

But 2015 and 2016 have been different. He still hit 23 home runs in 2015 (his peak was 31 in 2012), but his stolen bases went down to 11, a career low, and he posted his lowest average, OBP and slugging percentages since 2011. He was still well above league average of course and the heart of the Pirates' lineup.

Yet 2016 has been possibly his worst yet. He is batting .244/.316/.408 and has an OPS+ of 93, seven worse than league average. He's already struck out 100 times in just 90 games after 133 strikeouts in 157 games last year. He has stolen just three bases and has been caught five times.

Quite simply, the numbers are troubling. He'll need to be a completely different player in the second half, starting very soon, to match his numbers from the past.

2. No runs Nola?
Nola's last start was a long time coming.

After a June in which nothing seemed to work for the righty, he finally seemed to figure things out after a 16-day layoff. He shut down the Marlins for six innings. He allowed just three base runners and no runs, striking out five.

Nola looked better than even his numbers indicate. He was cruising through five innings, having faced the minimum, but had to leave after six after taking a line drive off his throwing shoulder. Nothing to worry, as his exit was merely precautionary.

When the 23-year-old starter is on his game, it's thanks to a dynamite curveball that can produce swings and misses at a high rate. For all the talk of his opponent on Monday (Jose Fernandez), Nola's curve is one of the best in baseball and he used it to strike out five Marlins hitters. 

Where does he go from here? Well, it's tough to expect another shutout-type start, but Nola could be well-suited to face a righty-laden lineup like the Pirates. To truly shake off his bad June and worries about that liner to the arm, a second straight strong start would stave off any doubters.

3. Scouting Glasnow
Glasnow was the No. 10 prospect in all of baseball going into this year, according to MLB.com, so expectations are high for the 22-year-old making his second career start.

His MLB debut wasn't much to write home about. The 6-foot-8 righty took a loss while allowing four runs in 5 1/3 innings. He did strike out five St. Louis Cardinals in that start two weeks ago and two of the runs were let in by a reliever. He did surrender a home run, however.

So what does Glasnow offer in his repertoire that got him such a high prospect rating? Well, a mid-to-upper 90s fastball for one. His four-seamer is his calling card, already displaying an ability to blow hitters away with big league-esque stuff. 

Off-speed, he goes to a curveball and a changeup. Scouts believe his curve will be the better pitch in the long term, but he hasn't mastered either quite yet.

What Glasnow needs to live up to his billing as a top talent is command. It's unsurprising that a pitcher that tall would struggle with command early in his career, as many pitchers like Randy Johnson, Dellin Betances or others have done so as well. 

However, there are plenty of cautionary tales of tall pitchers who never quite figured out all the parts of their motion and couldn't cut it in the majors. Glasnow gets his second chance to stick in the MLB after a couple weeks in the minors. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Odubel Herrera isn't hitting .300 like he was to start the year, but his 3 for 5 night on Friday propelled the Phils to a much-needed victory. Can he keep up the same momentum against a rookie like Glasnow?

Pirates: Starling Marte this year has been, well, a star. His .311 batting average leads the Pirates and his .459 slugging percentage has made him an active part in the Buccos' middle of the order.

5. This and that
• Nola is much better away from Citzens Bank Park. He is 2-6 and allows an opposing OPS of .771 at home while he is 3-2 and allows just a .607 OPS on the road. He's allowed nine home runs at CBP as opposed to just one on the road, in an equal number of starts.

• Neither Nola nor Glasnow have faced the opposing team before Saturday.

• McCutchen hits the Phillies well historically. He has a .301/.371/5.14 triple slash against the Phillies to go with seven home runs and 10 doubles. 

• In 107 at-bats over 32 games at PNC Park, Ryan Howard is batting just .187 with just three extra base hits (two home runs and a double).

Best of MLB: Yankees stay hot with win over sloppy Giants

Best of MLB: Yankees stay hot with win over sloppy Giants

NEW YORK -- Giants Gold Glove shortstop Brandon Crawford made three errors for the first time in his career, with his wild throw in the eighth inning giving the New York Yankees a 3-2 win Friday night that sent San Francisco to its season-worst sixth straight loss.

The Giants held the best record in the majors at the All-Star break, but haven't won since. They also lost catcher Buster Posey, who fouled a ball off his right foot and left with a bruise. X-rays were negative and he was listed as day to day.

Masahiro Tanaka shut out San Francisco for six innings, giving up four singles. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner went seven innings, allowing two runs.

The Giants nicked Dellin Betances in the seventh, pulling within 2-1 on a walk, a double by Denard Span and a wild pitch. That ended a streak of 31 scoreless innings by Yankees relievers.

A double by Giants pinch-hitter Mac Williamson off Andrew Miller (6-1) tied it in the eighth.

But the Yankees bounced back for the fifth win in six games, and didn't need to hit the ball hard to do it (see full recap).

Kemp homers twice in Padres' victory
WASHINGTON -- Matt Kemp homered twice and drove in four runs, rookie Luis Perdomo pitched seven solid innings and the San Diego Padres beat the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak.

Kemp hit a solo shot in the first inning and gave San Diego the lead for good with a three-run homer in the fifth. He has six homers in his last six games and the Padres have homered in 20 straight, the longest streak in the National League this season.

Perdomo (4-4) gave up two first-inning runs, then limited the National to two hits over the final six innings of his longest outing. Brandon Maurer pitched 1 1/3 innings for his fourth save.

Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy homered for Washington. The Nationals have lost four of five.

Tanner Roark (9-6) turned in his shortest outing since June 5, lasting just five innings. He allowed five runs on four hits and surrendered two homers in a game for the first time this season (see full recap).

Fowler sparks Cubs' win over Brewers in return
MILWAUKEE -- Dexter Fowler led off the first with a homer and drove in three runs in his first game back from the disabled list, powering the Chicago Cubs to a 5-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night.

Fowler went 3 for 4 with a walk and scored twice after being sidelined more than a month with a strained right hamstring. His two-run double to left with the bases loaded in the second drew rousing cheers from the bevy of Cubs fans visiting Milwaukee.

Jason Hammel (9-5) allowed four hits and two runs over five-plus innings for his second victory since the All-Star break for NL Central-leading Chicago. He never trailed after Fowler slugged a 3-1 pitch from Jimmy Nelson (6-8) over the center-field wall to lead off the game.

Hernan Perez had a run-scoring double for the Brewers, and Ryan Braun hit a solo homer.

There were so many fans in Chicago shirts that their boos drowned out cheers from Brewers backers when Braun stepped to the plate in fourth. Braun went deep to center on the first pitch of the at-bat from Hammel for his 14th homer of the year.

Hammel departed after allowing a leadoff double to Scooter Gennett in the sixth with the Brewers trailing 4-2. Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. then retired the Brewers' 3-4-5 hitters in order, capped by strikeouts of Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter on six pitches total (see full recap).

Zach Eflin tosses 1st shutout in Phillies' win over Pirates

Zach Eflin tosses 1st shutout in Phillies' win over Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — Zach Eflin wasn’t the normal youth pitcher while growing up in Oviedo, Florida.

Though the lanky right-hander had the arm strength to overpower hitters, he concentrated more on pitching inside and keeping the ball low in the strike zone than trying to blow his fastball by everybody.
 
“I didn’t start throwing a slider or curveball until I was 16 or 17,” Eflin said. “I was taught at an early age that establishing the inside part of the plate allows you to throw your changeup effectively and opens things up so you can throw all your pitches. I wanted the changeup to be an effective pitch for me.”
 
The Phillies' rookie is showing in the early part of his major-league career that he learned his lessons well.
 
The 22-year-old had his best outing yet Friday night when he pitched a three-hit shutout — the first of his nascent career — to lead the Phillies to a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the opener of a three-game series at PNC Park (see Instant Replay).
 
Eflin struck out six, had no walks and used an efficient 100 pitches to notch his second complete game. He also went the distance July 5 against the Atlanta Braves when he pitched a six-hitter and threw 92 pitches.
 
“One of the most exciting things about this season has been seeing the improvement of so many of our young pitchers,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “Zach has made such great strides in a short period of time.
 
“I’m happy for him. He’s a hard worker and a personable kid. He’s done a really good job.”
 
Eflin made his sixth straight quality start and is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA in eight outings since being recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley. The consistency Eflin is showing at such a young age is quite surprising in light of getting rocked for nine runs in 2 2/3 innings in his major-league debut by the Blue Jays on June 14 at Toronto.
 
“What impressed me the most after that debacle in Toronto is that Zach came back the next day and knew exactly what he needed to do in order to be successful and that was keep the ball down,” Mackanin said. “He’s been keeping the ball down ever since.”
 
Mackanin then smiled.
 
“He’s becoming one of my favorite pitchers,” the manager said.
 
Coming off a 2-5 homestand, the Phillies started a stretch in which they play 16 of 19 games on the road. Elfin got them off on the right foot at a venue where the Phillies were a combined 0-6 during the previous two seasons.
 
“It was great to pitch a shutout, a lot of fun,” Elfin said. “Having been out on the mound in the ninth inning before really helped. I knew I could finish the game.”
 
All-Star centerfielder Odubel Herrera broke out of his slump with three hits and two runs scored and catcher Cameron Rupp hit a two-run home run.
 
Herrera had two singles and a double after going 4 for 41 in his previous 11 games.
 
Herrera singled to lead off the sixth inning and scored the game’s first run on a single by Rupp. Herrera then doubled and scored on Andres Blanco’s single in the seventh to make it 2-0.
 
Rupp’s two-run shot, his 10th of the season, off Jon Niese in the ninth inning capped the scoring. Rupp had two hits and three RBIs.
 
Second baseman Freddy Galvis also had two hits, as did Blanco, who replaced third baseman Maikel Franco in the bottom of the third inning.
 
Franco was hit in the left wrist in the first inning by a pitch from Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole (5-6). He then singled in the top of the third before undergoing X-rays that were negative.

Eflin hit Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen in the rear end with a pitch in the bottom of the first inning, causing home plate umpire Tony Randazzo to warn both teams. There were no further incidents.
 
Franco had his hand wrapped after the game and said he did not know if he would be able to play Saturday afternoon. The ball hit Franco in the same spot where he suffered a fracture last August that caused him to miss most of the last six weeks of the season.
 
“I was scared at first because it was sore and was getting puffy,” Franco said. “I felt better [after getting treatment], though. I think everything will be fine.”